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Trump Inc – a podcast series from ProPublica and WNYC – #53 – Temporary Presidential Immunity

05/08/2020

May 14, 2020

About this episode – Temporary Presidential Immunity

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments on Tuesday, via teleconference, about the power to investigate the president.  

President Donald Trump has objected to subpoenas for his tax returns and other financial records. New York City prosecutors have demanded the documents as part of a criminal investigation into the president’s hush money payments to porn actress Stormy Daniels, while the House of Representatives has been seeking to investigate the conflicts of interests of a president who still owns a sprawling business. 

Trump’s lawyers have argued that a president shouldn’t be subject to investigation while in office. “We’re asking for temporary presidential immunity,” attorney Jay Sekulow said.

Andrea Bernstein of Trump, Inc. and NYU law professor Melissa Murray listened to the oral arguments and chatted with co-host Ilya Marritz about what struck them. A few takeaways:    

 Fights between the legislative and executive branch are not normally heard in front of the Supreme Court. Congress and the White House have typically negotiated solutions to such disputes. “And the fact that we’re in court is because this president hasn’t acceded to those norms,” Murray said.

• A phrase that came up repeatedly: “presidential harassment.” It’s language that Trump frequently uses on Twitter and his lawyers raised in court. The assertion, Murray said, “has transformed what would be considered, I think in other times, ordinary and essential legislative oversight into what accounts to bullying, harassment and mere partisan politics.”

• A number of the justices — including the liberal Stephen Breyer — expressed sympathy for the White House’s arguments against the House’s demands for documents, but they were far more skeptical about the claim that the president is immune from even criminal investigation. “The court seemed not to be amenable to that kind of argument at all,” Murray said. 

The justices are expected to deliver a decision in the cases — Trump v. Mazars, Trump v. Deutsche Bank and Trump v. Vance — this summer.

Related reporting:
The Accountants
Trump and Deutsche Bank: It’s Complicated

How Ivanka Trump and Donald Trump, Jr., Avoided A Criminal Indictment

About the series

Podcasts are a good form for presenting the surreality of this era, Eric Umansky, an editor at ProPublica, told me recently. “You can capture the absurdity in ways that you can’t in text,” he said. The excellent investigative podcast that he works on, “Trump Inc.,” from WNYC and ProPublica, began in February and concludes next week. Its premise is at once straightforward and audacious: it asks big, specific questions about Donald Trump’s famously mysterious business dealings, including those concerning possible connections between his Presidency and his profits; investigates them; and encourages listeners to pitch in and help. It features several personable, savvy-sounding reporters: Andrea Bernstein and Ilya Marritz, of WNYC, and Jesse Eisinger and Heather Vogell, of ProPublica, and it has a collaborative spirit. Reporters from other outlets (including The New Yorker’s Adam Davidson) offer additional information and insights. One episode features David Fahrenthold, of the Washington Post, answering listener questions; another was inspired by a comment that Fahrenthold made about Trump suing local municipalities in which he had businesses; a listener tip resulted in a mini-episode about Trump commissioning golf-tee markers with the Presidential seal on them. Umansky told me that one “superfan” listener “went to the courthouse in Westchester to look up cases for us.” Everybody gets to be a detective. Or, as the show’s Web site puts it, “Help Us Dive Into the Swamp.” 

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